I don’t want to have a stale reiteration of the facts as members who were at the public meeting on 14 January, or who have read the various press reports will be well aware by now of the sequence of events which unfolded.
After overall safety, the first and foremost consideration for this Council had to be about the adverse impact of closure on our borough’s residents and businesses. While the Christmas period meant that traffic was light for a number of days, it also meant that obtaining reliable information and communication with TfL was very difficult.
There were at first serious questions about how much TfL understood about the flyover structure. The leader of the opposition - always on the look out for imaginary smoking guns - has already told me that he believes there should have been more prior knowledge by engineers.
The facts however are that the flyover is 50 years old and is constructed in a way which is almost unique. Well before Christmas there had been extensive monitoring by TfL of the structure for some time and the very best engineering estimates available were that it would be 2 to 3 years before comprehensive remedial action was necessary although a programme of some preventative propping was in hand.
TfL has promised sufficient repairs will take place to allow for reopening to full capacity before the Olympics, there will be an as yet unspecified programme of further works to complete this programme and give the structure the extended lifespan of 7 or so years.
How long and what impact carrying out these works will have is as yet unspecified but details are expected to be released within the next few days. This Council will scrutinize TfL on their programme, as a highly inquisitive but critical friend – it would be absurd to have a programme of rolling works which will involve untold months (and even years) of disruption and closures in order to give a short few years of additional life before such works were required again.
Which brings me on to the future. We have already initiated the debate on options for a replacement of the flyover. It is undoubtedly a problem for our borough that the structure of the flyover had deteriorated as it had but it is also a real opportunity.
Realistically if a replacement plan is to be ready within the timescale of 7 or so years, we need to start work now on looking at the practicable options.
No one would contemplate building an elevated monster like the flyover today. It, together with the rest of the A4, cuts a decisive swath through Hammersmith separating the centre from the river with a corridor of blight. A smart, imaginative solution would be to relocate as much of the A4 route into a tunnel as possible. A road tunnel, which is a relatively common occurrence across Europe, would allow Hammersmith to be reconnected and for considerable reinstatement of the buildings which were swept away when King Street was bypassed in the 1950s.
There are therefore wide ranging social, economic and environmental reasons as to why a tunnel could be the answer. We need to have a body comprised of as wide a spectrum of interest as possible to look into the realistic options. For any such replacement to have a chance of going forward, a broad consensus needs to be established of all those involved, as to what solution represents the most desirable endpoint.
Speaking to and hearing from various Hammersmith amenity bodies, there is great enthusiasm for engaging in this process. Therefore the question remaining for the Labour party here tonight is are they on side with the apparent ambitions of the people of Hammersmith or are they not – I sincerely hope they are on side.